If, as comedian Dennis Miller once observed, “every generation’s job is to [annoy] the preceding generation,” Millennials might be the true Greatest Generation.
Mocking and criticizing Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, has become a national obsession. Unchallenged shaming of this demographic cohort for its alleged shortcomings, including laziness, immaturity, self-centeredness, and lack of resilience can be heard regularly in conversations both public and private. Such open disdain is surprising in an age when stereotypical, often baseless criticism of an entire race, sex or religious group would be rightly and quickly condemned.
Why do older folks have so much disdain for Millennials? Well, for openers, Dennis Miller is right. Every new generation has come under fire since the first new generation. Cavemen were convinced their kids would never learn to kill a mammoth; the Romans were sure their spoiled slothful children would lose the empire. We all know how the parents of the Baby Boomers felt about the Boomers’ long-hair, “noise” music and general rebelliousness. I guess the Romans were right…
But I also suspect that when it comes to the workplace, Millennials are subject to some generational jealousy. Every generation starts its career with dreams and aspirations. Yes, we want to make a good living, maybe even amass serious wealth. But we also want to apply our talents and effort to something that makes a difference in the world. Is it so wrong to try and wake up every day with a PURPOSE?! We want to be proud of the organization that employs us and know that it engages with the wider world in a positive and ethical way. We want a good work-life balance.
Unfortunately, we of previous generations have too often compromised on those aspirations in pursuit of the money. The Millennials, it seems, have tended (so far) to stay committed to their non-monetary desires. They will walk away from a well-compensated job, work four part-time jobs, or start their own business if that’s what it takes to feel good about their work life.
There’s something admirable about that mindset, isn’t there? I think so. In fact, I believe there is much we can learn as leaders from Millennials. Here are just four examples:
Follow your passion – The best leaders care deeply about their work and organization. If you aren’t passionate about your current field of employment, consider pursuing your true calling, regardless of your age or career level.
Trust your people – Millennials value the freedom to work on their terms. Flexible hours and the ability to work remote – from home all day, or from Starbucks for two hours – are important to them. Some employers and managers struggle with giving staffers that much freedom. But doing so sends a strong message to your people: “I trust you”; one that can improve worker satisfaction and raise productivity.
Emphasize ethics and the greater good – A recent study found that 94% of Millennials want to use their talents, skills, and education to help make the world a better place. That desire can manifest in many ways beyond being employed by a non-profit. When Millennials start a manufacturing business, for example, they often strive to offer top-quality products made with sustainable materials and processes and pledge to support the wider community with a share of their profits.
I suspect a survey of every generation would show a similar result. We all want our work to have meaning; we all want to be fulfilled; to feel we’ve somehow made things a little better.
Focus on Happiness – What is so wrong with all these millennials trying to be happy? Raj Raghunathan has written about the psychology of happiness and has proven that generosity is not only a key to happiness but a determining factor of long-term success. Also, appreciating the uncertainty (that so many millennials do) rather than seeking the full control of outcomes is NECESSARY for happiness.
When considering a job opportunity, Millennials often give serious consideration to whether their prospective employer is a “good” company, as defined by such things as the organization’s support for its workers, whether the organization has purpose and community impact. They will trade higher compensation for more aligned values.
See? America’s favorite punching bags are quite a remarkable bunch. Maybe it’s time to stop laughing at them and begin learning from them.
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